Year for Priests

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

August 5, 2009


Fr. Peter Daly talks about, St. John Vianney in this year of prayer for priests.


            The patron saint of my parish is St. John Vianney.

            This year the whole Catholic world is becoming familiar with him because Pope Benedict has proclaimed 2009-2010 a “Year for Priests” under the patronage of St. John Vianney.

            Jean Marie Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests. He was the pastor of the little town of Ars, near Lyons, France in the turbulent era following the French revolution. He is known as the “Cure of Ars” since as a pastor he had the “cure” or “care” of souls. He died 150th years ago. August 4, 1859 is his “dies natalis,” the day of his birth into everlasting life.

            Before I came to my parish, I didn’t know much about St. John Vianney. And what I did know did not seem very appealing. He seemed like one of those plastic saints, a little unreal even a little ditzy.

            I never liked the stories about him eating rotten potatoes or spending 18 hours a day in the confessional. I just didn’t believe it or think is sounded healthy spiritually or physically.

            As Pope Benedict XVI noted in his letter that sometimes the biographers of the saint were given to “pious excess.”

            I never heard St. John Vianney even mentioned in my seminary years in Rome, even though we were supposed to be training to be like him, parish priests. 

            It was not until I came to this parish named for him that I began to learn about his life. People gave me books about him and collections of his sermons. His sermons struck me as severe, mostly admonishing the sinner and condemning sin. John Vianney did not approve of dancing or card playing.

            But gradually, I have come to admire St. John Vianney.

            Ironically, the man who is now the model and measure of parish priests almost did not get ordained himself. He was to be blunt, not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. He could read Latin. One of his sponsors argued to the bishop that, “The church wants not only learned priests, but even more holy ones.” 

            They sent him to Ars, a town of only 230 souls. Few of them went to church. The bishop is reported to have said that at least John Vianney could do no damage in Ars.

            He stayed in that little parish for 42 years, the rest of his life. (Imagine, only one assignment!) There he fell in love with the people of his parish. Eventually they fell in love with him.

            They could see that he cared about them. He also cared about being a priest. He had reverence for what he was and what he did.

            His greatest love was celebrating the liturgy. “All good works taken together,” he wrote, “do not equal the sacrifice of the mass.”

            He loved hearing confessions, because he loved the people who came to him. He cared about their souls and their happiness. He wanted them to be free of the burden of sin.

            At the end of his life, John Vianney’s reputation as a confessor was so great that people came from all over France, just to confess their sins to him. He was famous as a holy man. The French government awarded him its highest honor, the Legion of Honor.

            His most eloquent sermon was his life. Pope Benedict said, “St. John Vianney taught his parishioners primarily by the witness of his life.”

            In that sense he is a very real and modern saint. Today we put more faith in lived example than words of holiness.

            St. John Vianney was a saint who “walked the walk” more than “talked the talk.”

            In that regard he is an example for us all.